Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$58,190 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
A network administrator oversees computer networks to ensure that they function smoothly. A network consists of a grouping of computers that communicate with each other or a central computer known as a server, on which computer files, programs, and other information are stored. A network may be as small as two or three computers or as large as the Internet, the world's largest computer network.
Whereas a network technician or engineer designs and sets up the infrastructure for a computer network, a network administrator usually configures and manages an existing network. He or she may be responsible for customizing the network to an individual company's needs by connecting the necessary hardware and software to the network. Once the network is configured, the administrator adds computer programs, such as e-mail, that the company's employees use on a daily basis. A network administrator's work usually depends on the size of the network for which he or she is responsible. The smaller the network, the more duties a network administrator handles. For large networks, several individuals may perform different tasks related to the network. The administrator then monitors the performance of the network and troubleshoots any problems such as slow performance or network crashes. A crash occurs when users cannot access the network or use all of its features properly. The administrator must also work with individual users who are having network problems that are not experienced by other users.
Some network problems may result in the loss or corruption of data stored on the server. For this reason, the administrator must develop, install, and maintain emergency systems to back up the main network server. Administrators keep records of all users' problems and errors as well as the steps taken to solve the problems. This information is used to help solve future problems.
Administrators also control user access to the network. This includes setting up passwords for individual users and determining which files, programs, or features each person is allowed to use. The administrator must also create a firewall—a set of security measures designed to make sure that no one can gain unauthorized access to the system. In larger firms this task may fall to a network security specialist. Network security also involves monitoring the network to see who is using it and how. A security specialist is responsible for changing passwords periodically and updating security measures and procedures.
Education and Training Requirements
A network administrator should have a strong background in math, sciences, and computer science, as well as experience working with computers. Although a college degree in computer science, systems science, math, or engineering is not required to become a network administrator, advancement is difficult without one. Administrators should be familiar with a variety of network operating systems, including Microsoft, Novell, and Unix. Because computer technology changes rapidly, administrators must constantly upgrade their knowledge base.
Several companies that produce network software also offer training and certification in network administration. For instance, network software maker Novell offers a Certified Novell Administrator (CAN) certification for administrators who pass their training courses. A company that hires a network administrator from outside will almost certainly require such certification or proof of experience in administering a network successfully.
Network administration requires good organizational and logical thinking skills, both to set up and administer a network and to diagnose and solve problems. Administrators must be able to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines when required. Because they may have to work with users who have little or no technical knowledge, they must be able to communicate complex and unfamiliar ideas easily.
Getting the Job
Network administrator jobs are often advertised in newspapers, computer industry magazines, or Internet job banks. Some firms may offer to pay for the training of interested employees, because those individuals are already familiar with the company's needs.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Network administrators may advance into network engineering, in which they design networks from the ground up based on a company's needs and priorities. They may also branch out into other areas of computing such as programming, systems analysis (determining how well computer systems are operating and designing ways to improve their performance), and software engineering. Computer networks are becoming a standard part of most medium-to-large firms, and even of many smaller ones.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 278,000 network administrators were employed in the United States in 2004. Employment of network administrators was expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014. As the use of networks expands and the technology continues to change, the demand for qualified administrators will increase.
Network administrators, like other computer professionals, work in an office environment. Most put in forty hours or more of work per week. Much of the job is performed alone, but the administrator must also work with users who are not comfortable with the system or who are experiencing difficulties. Configuring a network can require long hours of work over a short period of time. Maintaining the network can alternate between routine tasks such as installing and updating programs and the more interesting but hectic work of troubleshooting and fixing network problems. If a network crashes, the administrator must work as quickly as possible, regardless of the hour, to solve the problem and restore the network to operation. For a large network, the task of updating and maintenance can require late hours and work on an irregular schedule.
Where to Go for More Information
IEEE Computer Society
1730 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Systems Administrator Guild
2560 9th St., Ste. 215
Berkeley, CA 94710
Earnings and Benefits
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median yearly wage for network administrators in 2004 was $58,190. According to the "Computerworld Salary Survey 2005" (Computer- world, October 24, 2005), the median yearly wage for a network administrator was $52,712 in 2005. Those in management jobs earn more. Because most network administrators are salaried employees, they are also entitled to health insurance, retirement, and other benefits offered to the company's employees.